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Atascadero is the last SLO County city to join 3CE

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Atascadero residents will soon have a potentially less costly and more environmentally friendly choice when it comes to powering their homes.

The City Council voted to join Central Coast Community Energy (3CE), a community choice aggregation program (CCA) that serves electricity to cities and counties across the Central Coast. Atascadero was the last city in SLO County to join 3CE, though the county Board of Supervisors has not opted to implement it for the unincorporated areas of the county.

POWER OF CHOICE Atascadero City Council voted to join Central Coast Community Energy, or 3CE—the last incorporated city in SLO County to do so. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • POWER OF CHOICE Atascadero City Council voted to join Central Coast Community Energy, or 3CE—the last incorporated city in SLO County to do so.

3CE is a joint powers authority of local governments that buys power for its ratepayers and sells it over existing transmission lines which, around here, are owned by PG&E.

"Joining a CCA basically is a local government telling PG&E to stop charging us for power and let us pool resources with other local people to collectively buy or generate it for ourselves (while PG&E still controls transmission and half our bill)," 3CE Vice Chair Das Williams told New Times in an email.

The benefits include competitive or lower rates than PG&E and, depending on which 3CE service offering a customer chooses, up to 100 percent renewable energy.

The switchover for Atascadero residents will begin in January 2024. 3CE is an opt-out service, so all new customers will automatically be enrolled in 3Cchoice, which offers competitive rates and is 34 percent renewably generated. From there, customers can choose to opt out of the program entirely and stick with PG&E rates, or pay a little extra for 3Cprime, which is generated from 100 percent renewable sources.

Lara Christensen, Atascadero deputy city manager, explained at a Feb. 8 City Council meeting that in the past, 3CE's rates fluctuated a lot because they were calculated as a percentage of PG&E rates.

"When they first started, a lot of the appeal was that people were looking at ... getting rates at 2 to 6 percent less than what they were paying with PG&E," Christensen said. "So it was, in essence, an easy sell for people to want to switch over because they were getting a guaranteed cost savings."

But because it's a volatile industry with constantly shifting rates, this system led 3CE to adjust their rates 73 times in the past four years, Christensen said.

"The constant shifting in that, it just wasn't stable, it didn't give people a lot of stability," she continued. "So they switched over ... to a cost-of-service model, where basically they're going to look at the cost to purchase the electricity, the cost of doing business and providing that electricity, and then create their rates based on that."

These new rates will go into effect March 1, 2022, and are anticipated to be 27 to 33 percent lower than PG&E's projected rates, according to 3CE's website.

Public comment at the Feb. 8 meeting was a mixed bag, but the majority of people who wrote in to support Atascadero joining 3CE, including the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce.

"We believe competition is good for consumers," Chamber President/CEO Josh Cross wrote. "This will hopefully result in lower pricing eventually or possibly lower inflation rates in energy costs. Since beginning operations in 2018, 3CE has saved customers an estimated $17.2 million versus the incumbent provider [PG&E]. We understand that lower prices aren't guaranteed but feel it's important to have choice."

3CE Vice Chair Williams thanked the Atascadero City Council for "looking at this from a financial benefit and local control perspective."

"Our purchasing power is now driving renewable energy investment and the more that stick with us, the more we will drive the change," he said. Δ

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